Why Can Europe have Climate Targets but not the US? Corruption

By Juan Cole

The European Union climate summit has agreed to cut emissions by 40% by 2030, after hard bargaining by Poland and the UK failed to derail an agreement.

The 28 nations of the EU also agreed to improve energy efficiency by 27% over the next decade and a half, and to ensure a continent-wide proportion of at least 27% renewable energy market share.

In contrast, the production of carbon dioxide in the US increased in 2013, from roughly by 2.5 percent at a time when scientists are frantically signaling the need to significantly reduce that output. The US produces about 5.5 billion metric tons of CO2 a year. In 2014, the world crossed the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, up from 270 in preindustrial times. Archeological examination of ice cores that show past atmospheric composition demonstrates that such high levels of CO2 in prehistoric times (then caused by volcanic activity rather than human) were correlated with higher sea levels and a third less land area, with megastorms, and with tropical climates throughout the planet.

US capitalism trumpets itself as efficient and agile, able better to deal with social and political crises than government policy because of the magic of the market. But the structures of markets are themselves produced by government policy, which plutocrats in the US have bought. In fact, US capitalism is acting like an ostrich, hiding from the biggest social and economic crisis — rapid human-caused global warming– that the human species has ever faced.

The Guardian notes that Tony Robson, the CEO of Knauf Insulation, complains that an increase of 27% in energy efficiency over 15 years is just about what people are doing anyway in Europe, where fuel prices are typically higher than in the US. So that isn’t exactly taking climate change as an emergency.

A goal of 27% renewables by 2030 is also not very ambitious. Renewables (including wind, solar and hydroelectric) have produced nearly 28% of Germany electricity this year, and German goals are far more ambitious than the EU overall. Renewables produced 42% of Spain’s electricity in 2013 and it reduced its carbon emissions by nearly a quarter.

Why are even center-right governments in Europe so much better at this than is the United States?

Europe is less politically corrupt. Although corporations play a big role in politics in Europe, private money is much less influential. In the US, we are to the point where it is all right for our politicians to be bought and sold sort of like slaves, and where 400 or so billionaires are the ones doing the buying and selling. If you are an American taxpayer and you think John Boehner represents you, you have another think coming. Big oil and big coal can just purchase speeches on the floor of the House that would be laughed off the stage in Europe, and European journalists are far more ready to ridicule flat-earth claims like climate change denialism.

Europe isn’t perfect. Poland’s coal addiction watered down the summit’s achievement (Poland would actually make money going into wind and solar instead of coal over the next 15 years, but coal mining owners and workers are vetoing economic common sense). And small businesses are afraid of higher energy costs (in fact, renewables are at grid parity in most of Europe). Also, Europe is afraid that China, India and other nations with already-lower labor costs will drag their feet on moving to renewables, leaving Europe less competitive in industrial production and exports.

And some of the impetus to reform comes from geopolitical considerations. Europe is not happy at being so beholden to Russia for natural gas, especially given Vladimir Putin’s thuggish behavior over it and the Ukraine/ Crimea crises. Russia supplies about 1/3 of European natural gas. Qatar is also a big player in that market and some European states are viewing it with increased unease because of its alleged backing for Muslim radicals in Syria and Libya.

But for all these powerful considerations, the EU was able to set significant carbon reduction goals, and many European countries have demonstrable avoided the production of billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide over the past decade– CO2 that would have warmed the earth even faster and produced even more climate disruption– disruption that will cost far more than the $100 bn the German consumers have paid since 2000 for the push for renewables. (At 82 million Germans over 14 years, it isn’t really even that much money– $82 a year per capita or so, less than most Americans spend on lattes).

In the meantime, US emissions are the biggest per capita of any major industrialized country and after a fall because of increased wind energy and a turn to natural gas, went back up last year.


Related video:

Euronews: “EU leaders mull climate targets for 2030”

7 Responses

  1. “Europe is less politically corrupt”. I assume you exclude Greece, Italy and Spain from Europe? And possibly Portugal, and maybe Ireland. France? Belgium? As for UK, well……….

  2. Putin’s “thuggish behavior?” How about that of the US, overthrowing a democratically-elected government as part of an encirclement of Russia? Aided and abetted by some of the EU states, now perhaps a bit sorry….

    As for the US not having any carbon-reduction goals that mean anything, the USG is far too excited about fracking making the US the dominant country in energy supplies to consider seriously trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Who cares what our grandchildren will think is apparently the motto. The Exceptional Country indeed….

  3. Its partly to do IMHO with being part of the Anglosphere. The US, Canada and Australia all have climate denial as a significant part of politics. Even in the UK (which installed almost as much solar as the several times larger USA last year btw), has Cameron trying to slow wind development. Could it be because the Murdoch owned media empire has significant media ownership in these English speaking countries.

    Meanwhile China and India are getting pretty aggressive about renewables. China even reduced its coal usage for the first time ever.

    The one thing that didn’t phase me however was the year on year increase in US emissions. Emissions are fairly noisy, depending among other things upon the vagaries of the weather; a cold winter in a populated part of the country will increase demand for heating for instance, and a drought will reduce hydro-power. You have to use a time series longer than a year or two to demonstrate rising/falling of emissions.

  4. What thuggish behaviour concerning natural gas on the part of President Putin?

    Thuggish behaviour like expecting payment? The Ukraine owes €5 billion to Russia past due on natural gas. In addition, the Ukraine – in the middle of genocidal bloodletting of its large Russian minority – is demanding preferential pricing (about half of what Europe pays). In the middle of this Russia and President Putin are trying to build South Stream to be able to supply Europe reliably. Russia is doing everything to be a reliable partner to Europe, while the US is working to send Europe and Russia into depression by disrupting trade ties – even at the expense of a major war in Europe and possible nuclear apocalypse.

    Thuggish behaviour indeed but not on the part of President Putin or Russia but rather the United States. I’m surprised to see you of all commentators falling directly into the trap of this modern day Operation Mockingbird.

    While European politics are marginally less corrupt and less beholden to corporations but the US State Department is doing everything its can best to remedy this. I implore you not to abet them in this mission.

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